Sunday, September 30, 2007

Administration Plans for Iran: Propaganda or Threat?

Seymour Hersh has a new piece up at the New Yorker belittling the Bush administration's strategic planning on Iran. Hersh argues that the administration's shifting rationale for a military response to Iran is tactical propaganda designed to gain the upper hand in public opinion. Here's a snippet (via Memeorandum):

In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran....

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.

Hersh spends much of the remainder of his essay questioning the credibility of Iranian support for Shiite terror in Iraq, and he dismisses Iranian influence on the mayhem, suggesting that tribal animosities and sectarian infighting within the Iraqi government are responsible for recent violence and instability.

Those familiar with Hersh's work - he's mounted a decades-long campaign to delegitimize the U.S. military and the use of force - will be rightly skeptical of this article. It's been well known for years that Iran has been supplying some of the most lethal improvised explosives killing U.S. forces in Iraq (see here, here, here, here, and here). Further, Hersh's piece fails to provide sources of evidence or argumentation contrary to his major claims.

Antiwar forces will continue to hammer the administration on foreign policy, and neither a full-scale Iranian incursion into Iraq nor the development of Iranian nuclear capability will derail the left's delegitimization campaign against American counterbalancing on Iran.

Note thought that just last week eight Arab nations warned at a diplomatic conference against Iran's "hegemonistic" designs for the Middle East region. In Israel, moreover, the Jerusalem Post suggested that Iran's belligerence presents a challenge to both Israeli and global security:

If a house is on fire, there is little point in worrying about termites, let only the color of the drapes. Western global priorities are seriously misaligned. While it would be wrong to succumb to the global Islamist threat by ignoring other issues, it is even more wrong to ignore the overarching threat that, if it is not defeated, will prevent free nations from comprehensively advancing any of the other critical items on the global agenda.

By force of necessity, Israel has to place grappling with existential threats at front and center. While the country has done an astounding job of building a thriving democracy despite the continuous Arab war against our existence, our politics has been monopolized by matters of peace and security. All other concerns, from the environment to religious-secular tensions to socioeconomic gaps to battling corruption and reforming the electoral system, have had to be largely set aside by a public and political system that cannot adequately address such "side" issues until our existential dilemma is dealt with.

The existential threat to Israel is, of course, part of the Islamist threat to the West. Ignoring it, in either its local or global forms, will not make it go away. Nor can the international community begin to defeat it in earnest while we are still confused and in denial over the pivotal role the outcome of this struggle will have for all other global priorities.

If there's a silver lining in Hersh's report, it's that Israeli military and political leaders are cool to limited U.S. strikes on Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which is a top option being pushed by Vice President Dick Cheney. Israel remains focused on the full-blown decapitation of Iranian strategic capabilities, Hersh notes. The U.S. should be as well.

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